20 April, 2014


A New Level of Intolerable Violence Plagues Hockey

Today the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will announce its final sanctions against Rouyn-Noranda center Patrice Cormier for his nauseating attack on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts on January 17. The brutality hospitalized Tam with brain trauma and destroyed teeth, and Cormier has been suspended ever since. Quebec provincial police are appropriately investigating the attack.

Cormer. a 2008 second-round selection of the New Jersey Devils, is said to “play with an edge,” but what he did to Tam, lining up his opponent in most premeditated fashion, his elbow extended like a battering ram, is no “edginess.” It’s the act of an outlaw, and one who has little other redeeming quality. Hockey as we know it can survive without players like Patrice Cormier in it; I’m not sure it can however with them.

To be clear: we are quite lucky Tam is not dead. What if Cormier had been skating at full speed when he attacked? And if acts of brutality like Cormier’s continue to be met with shocking status quo sentiments like those of Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello, such violence will continue and even worse — perhaps even fatal — results will follow. Lamoriello is very much part of hockey’s problem here. His indifference to this malignancy on our sport is another form of violence against it.

Hockey I think has at last arrived at a moment where extreme violence can no longer be excused away as a hazard of the trade, or a teaching moment, for we aren’t taking the lessons very well.

I thought Greg Wyshynski hit the framing chord just right in the lead of his discussion of this incident last week:

“It happens during every flashpoint moment of violence in hockey: Shock at the actions, concern for the injured, anger — and some character witness sympathy from peers — aimed at the aggressor, anticipation of a banishment and then either celebration or repudiation of a governing body’s determined punishment for the crime. Rinse and repeat.”

If you’re one of the few who follow the sport who hasn’t seen the attack, there are three brief replays of it in this TSN video. Be advised that the aftermath of Cormier’s crime, which leaves Tam convulsing on the ice, is especially difficult to watch.

We can’t treat Cormier’s crime — against hockey, a fellow hockey player, and civil society — like any other act of senseless violence in our sport. Cormier’s thuggery occurs fairly hard on the heels of another CHL act of neaderthalism: last week the Ontario Hockey League announced a 20-game suspension for Zach Kassian, who drove the head of Windsor’s Matt Kennedy into the boards.

Cormier is a repeat filthy aggressor: he sullies his sport with regularity, embarrassing it in the league he plays and while wearing the sweater of his country. Maybe he’s extreme acting on an ethos hockey has winked and nodded at for 50 or 70 years. Maybe he’s a genuinely unstable individual. It matters not. Hockey must now act to reign in a level of violence that is skating horrifically close to the lethal.

The NHL, predictably, shied away from showing leadership in this moment. Its silence on Cormier is deafening. All of its sanctimony about care for the health of its players must be tempered when juxtaposed by its silence in this matter; after all, the CHL is its lead development pipeline. So we await the sanctions from Q League commissioner Gilles Corteau and hope that leadership arrives from below.

Rigorous infractions reform must be the one good that comes out of this incident. Men who govern our game but who do not represent the old way of doing things (read, Lamoriello) must convene a summit and from it issue a decree against aggressor acts targeting players’ heads that is abided by all levels of development hockey. There is a reason that elbowing is a penalty while shouldering is not. The elbow is a sharp and blunt weapon, not unlike a stick,  that can fairly impale players. Its use is devastating when directed at rib cages, but at heads it can be lethal, and it simply must not be tolerated.

Going forward, there needs to be a rigorous reorientation over players’ use of elbows, or we simply cannot take anything hockey says about concern for head injuries seriously. Elbowing needs to be a 5-minute major in general; its use against heads a first-instance act prescriptive of lengthy suspension. A second, banishment.

Hockey can have beautiful violence. But it cannot have Patrice Comier’s kind.



9 Comments

  1. The Diarist wrote:

    I have to agree with you completely. One would think that hockey had learned this lesson after the McSorely-Brashear incident 10 years ago.

    25 January, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  2. xke4me wrote:

    I agree. Remember that those pointy elbows are encased in hard plastic pads. It only adds to the damage that can be done with an elbow.

    I read another account in which Cormier states that “it was a reflex action.” I find it particularly alarming that charging an opponent with your elbow would be a reflex for a player at any level.

    25 January, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  3. DMG wrote:

    The NHL, predictably, shied away from showing leadership in this moment. Its silence on Cormier is deafening. All of its sanctimony about care for the health of its players must be tempered when juxtaposed by its silence in this matter; after all, the CHL is its lead development pipeline.

    What would have the NHL do in this situation? The QMJHL and the CHL as a whole are outside of its jurisdiction. It can’t enact any suspension in either league, and to make a statement about it anyway would be tacky; akin the NFL weighing in unasked on an incident in an SEC or Pac-10 football game.

    25 January, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  4. That football comparison is very much apples to oranges, insomuch as the NHL subsidizes (and long has) the CHL. As it should.

    25 January, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  5. Lloyd Sheen wrote:

    As a long time hockey fan from Canada, I think that laying the complete blame on an individual player is sometimes wrong. In Canadian junior hockey the goal is to make it as a pro. To accomplish this you must “do what the coach say” and finish your checks, be hard on the man etc. Don’t forget that these are teenagers with raging hormones and sometimes thing will go wrong, in this case “very” wrong.

    Blame must be divided between the player (who commited the act), coach and the entire system. Since the system will not change (even with so many bad hits) and coaches listen to their owners and GM’s to keep their job.

    Some say a death or major injury to a star is needed to fix this situation but there was a death in Canada during a hockey fight and absolutely nothing has been done about removing a helmut during a fight.

    I believe the suspension was correct but lets put this all in perspective and lay the blame at all those involved.

    25 January, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  6. Hittman wrote:

    Cormier is a repeat offender, as the article mentions. It’s one thing to subconsciously do something really dirty and hurt a guy–fool me once–but he did the exact same thing against Sweden (or was it another country?) in the WJC. Exact same thing. Luckily that previous victim only suffered what appeared to be a broken nose and didn’t come close to death like Tam. There’s dirty play, such as slashing, talking trash, and generally being a pest, and then there’s dangerous behavior. Avery, Carcillo and the like push the limits but I can’t say those guys are going around trying to injure people. They are trying to get under the other team’s skin. Cormier intended to injure Tam, and he did. In the law, we call that assault. Is an elbow pad a deadly weapon? Throw the book at this chump.

    25 January, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  7. Eric LaForge wrote:

    This is one of the things that continually damages the sport. I’ve been reffing for a number of years now and I’ve seen it start to trickle down into younger levels of play. I’ve broken up fights between 6-7 year olds, seen kids the same age retaliate for a “cheap shot”, and also start protecting their goalie.

    They don’t even know where the line is. They’ll go after people who aren’t even close to the goalie, and still call it protecting the goalie. There was one time where the goalie covered the puck by one post, and a player took a run at another kid on the other post, six feet away.

    It’s incidents like this that corrupt the sport, and I don’t see any reason that it’s going to get better. I was very happy to see the league hand down a harsh suspension.

    25 January, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  8. garbage_goal wrote:

    I was one of the few people who hadn’t seen the clip, mostly because I’ve been avoiding it. All the coverage I’d heard pointed towards the injury contributing substantially to the outrage. I finally watched the clip, intent on judging the hockey play, not the aftermath.

    And this is as cut-and-dry a hit as I’ve seen. Had Tam skated away from this without a scratch, you’d still hear me joining the voices calling for a season-long suspension. Vicious, premeditated head-hunting.

    Where do these kids learn that kind of crap? And then I remembered a similar play: the time when Tie Domi elbowed Niedermayer’s head into the glass (and then partition). How many games did Domi miss? And he left the sport a fan-favorite for Leaf fans.

    Cormier’s been suspended, as I understand it, essentially for the rest of the season. Not sure that’s enough.

    25 January, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  9. Sherrie Van Houten wrote:

    Lloyd Sheen–In the OHL, it is a penalty to remove your helmet before or during a fight, and linesmen are instructed to break up the fisticuffs as soon as a helmet comes off. Admittedly, this got a little dicey when linesmen started getting tagged by players throwing haymakers, and they aren’t as quick to enforce the rule as they once were. (Not that I blame them) But the rule exists, as does the ruling against head shots in the OHL.

    26 January, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink